Is there any treatment for atherosclerosis? What are the risk factors?
Atherosclerosis, also called hardening of the arteries, is a condition in which the walls of certain large arteries become thicker and less flexible. This effectively makes them narrower and reduces blood flow to the organs they serve. Reduced blood flow to the heart, for example, means the heart receives less oxygen and nutrients.
Atherosclerosis is a major cause of cardiovascular disease, leading to heart attack and stroke. Coronary artery disease is the most common form of heart disease. It is characterized by atherosclerosis, or blockage of the arteries that supply and sustain the heart.
There are numerous risk factors for atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease. Having one risk factor, however, does not mean you are doomed to keel over with a heart attack. Having multiple risk factors increases the danger, but there are many medical therapies and lifestyle changes that can improve your risk profile. Some of the risk factors for coronary artery disease are high blood cholesterol, family history of heart disease, smoking, personal history of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure.
If your doctor determines that the atherosclerosis is severe enough to pose a near-term threat of heart attack, immediate medical intervention may be advised. Medical treatments include angioplasty, which is an invasive, but non-surgical method that opens up the narrowed arteries. Another method is coronary artery bypass surgery, in which a section of artery from elsewhere in the body is attached in a way that bypasses the blocked part of the affected coronary arteries.
When the risks are considered to be more long-range, then the focus of treatment will be on reducing the risk factors in various ways. This approach may include medications where appropriate, perhaps to reduce cholesterol or control high blood pressure or diabetes. It also will include making healthy lifestyle changes, such as eating a low-fat diet, getting regular aerobic exercise, quitting smoking, losing weight, reducing stress, etc. Many doctors recommend taking small doses of aspirin as a preventive measure.
Because they reduce the risk factors for heart disease, lifestyle changes are considered preventive. They also are highly recommended as part of prevention and rehabilitation for people who have had heart attacks and those who have had surgery, angioplasty or other medical treatments for atherosclerosis.